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Seven Ways to Nail Your Cover Letter

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It’s taken over an hour, but you’ve finally completed an online application for a job that seems perfect for you. Never mind the fact that all the information you’ve keyed in is already on the resume you’ve worked many hours to retool for this particular position. Now the job site is requesting that you upload a cover letter. Really? Is a cover letter truly necessary in 2016? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the answer is ‘Yes.’

Despite claims by some career coaches that cover letters are rarely read and are just relics from the pre-digital age, the majority of HR experts believe applications with strong cover letters are an important factor when it comes to impressing prospective employers.

“The cover letter is not dead,” says Jenny Foss, a contributing writer to The Muse.

“Done well, a cover letter gives you the chance to speak directly to how your skills and experience line up with the specific job you’re pursuing. It also affords you an opportunity to hint to the reviewer that you’re likable, original and likely to fit in around the place should you land the job,” explains Foss.

Just what makes for a “well-done” cover letter? Read on to obtain some expert advice from Aerotek recruiter panelist member, Kate Keller and others.

1. Start strong

Spend some time coming up with a compelling first sentence, suggests Hannah Morgan, a contributor to U.S. News and World Report Careers.

“Too often, cover letters are sleep-inducing. Don’t start your cover letter like everyone else by stating something like, ‘attached you will find my résumé for your Project Manager job.’ Instead, lead with a quote from a performance review or recommendation that highlights some of your relevant skills or your work ethic,” says Morgan.

2. Cover your bases

“A cover letter should include the applicant’s rationale for applying for the specific position, details about how the applicant’s personality and skills will make them an asset to the team and an explanation of how the position correlates with your career path,” says Keller, a senior professional account recruiting manager at Aerotek and a member of Aerotek’s recruiter panel.

Keller recommends that applicants avoid generic phrases such as “go-getter attitude,” or “hard-working professional.” Instead, say something about yourself that will make you stand out from the crowd,” says Keller. “What do you have to offer that will have a positive impact on the company? That’s what the cover letter should reveal.”

3. Get personal

Not only should your cover letter show the reader who you are and how you can contribute to the company, it should also show that you did your homework about the company and its thought leaders.

“Remember that ‘to whom it may concern’ is so passé,” says Morgan. If you’re lucky, the job posting will include the name of the person who will receive your application. If not, you may need to do some detective work. Do your best to find out the name and title of the person doing the hiring, and make your pitch directly to that person.

4. Note the particulars

Do your homework by visiting the company’s website and learning about the nature of its work. Take note of the organization’s projects, clients, any awards won, or other company-related news. If appropriate, reference one or two of these facts in your cover letter and then “do your best to specifically explain why you would be a good fit in the company,” recommends Morgan.

5. Be the cure

“Become what business leaders call a ‘pain spotter,’ by researching companies and discovering what ‘ailments’ (organizational problems) they are trying to ‘treat’ by hiring candidates like you.” Use your cover letter to show how you’ve “cured” similar ailments in previous positions.

6. Ask for help

Consult with your recruiter for cover letter-writing tips. Your recruiter is likely to have contacts in the industry or even at the company to which you’re applying—they may share some great examples from previous successful job seekers. They may be able to steer you in the right direction regarding to whom you should address your letter and what types of candidates and skill sets are most in demand at the company.

7. Revise, edit, proof, repeat

What’s worse than not sending a cover letter at all? Sending one that’s poorly written. Never press send without reading your cover letter several times over, doing an electronic spell and grammar check, and making sure you’re sending the right letter to the right person at the right company. It also helps to have a friend review the letter for you. Keep in mind that the hiring manager is probably short on time, so make your points clearly and succinctly to win them over from the get-go.

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